They still want to know what it means

I was a bit surprised that a post I wrote in 2007 (one of my first for the blog) has become one of the top five visits. More than 25,000 people viewed it since being posted (half of them in the last two years).

I realize this might not be much compared with more influential blogs, but I remain curious. Let me explain.

A recent blogger suggested that postmodernism is dead but not gone. He wrote:

“No obituary appeared in The New York Times. Television newscasts offered no tribute. But make no mistake: postmodernism is dead. Even those who could foresee this end could do nothing to prevent its suicide. Demise was built into its very DNA” (Colin Hansen).

To be fair, Hansen qualified this introduction a bit (thus the title, “dead, but not gone”). Yet he’s not alone in the assertion that postmodernity has had its day in the sun. This is what makes it curious to me that people still want to know how to think about the term postmodern (at least the ones who come to my post on it). 

On one level, I have no doubt that the internet has produced a shorter shelf life for most information. A writer recently wrote about the dismal shelf life of a blog post and it wasn’t too encouraging for the blogosphere! Philosophies come and go but it is premature to dismiss the realities of postmodernity.

I decided to repost (below) my earlier blog piece on the meaning of the term postmodern (unchanged). Based on earlier assessments, I believe it is obvious that we still live in a postmodern era.

Do you agree?

_______________________________________________________

What does “postmodern” mean? (February 22, 2007)

We live in a postmodern world. Or, so we’re told. But what does this mean? Postmodern is a word used to describe changes in ways people think — especially the way they view truth and reality.

Understanding post-modernity requires a review of modernity. But before the modern era, the world was considered pre-modern. What are the main differences in these three eras?

Pre-modern, modern, post-modern

The pre-modern era was one in which religion was the primary source for truth and reality. God’s existence and revelation were widely accepted in pre-modern culture.

In the modern era, science became the predominate source for truth and reality. Religion and the morality based on it were arbitrarily demoted to a subjective realm.

In the postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond individual preference.

Post-modern:

In postmodernism, relativism and individualism are radicalized and applied to all spheres of knowledge — even science. Truth and reality are individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion. These factors, according to postmodern thinking, combine to shape the narratives and meanings of our lives as culturally embedded, localized social constructions without any universal application.

Postmoderns are suspicious of those who make universal truth claims. All claims of universal meaning are viewed as imperialistic efforts to marginalize and oppress the rights of others. The most important value of postmodernity is the inadmissibility of all totalizing ways of viewing any dimension of life.

Postmodernity, as a worldview, refuses to allow any single defining source for truth and reality. The new emphasis is on difference, plurality and selective forms of tolerance. Postmodern thinking is full of absurdities and inconsistencies. It is, for example, the worldview that says no worldview exists. It is an anti-theory that uses theoretical tools to neutralize all theories. It demands an imposed uniformity in an effort to resist uniformity. It employs propositional statements to negate truth based on propositional statements.

Postmodern concern for plurality, diversity and tolerance have not led to a more stable and secure society. Instead, the postmodern era exchanged one misguided mood for another. Postmodernity was fueled by a shift from the human optimism of modernity (based on scientific certainty and technological progress), to a pessimistic mood of skepticism and uncertainty.

One observer noted that,  “Modernity was confident; postmodernity is anxious. Modernity had all the answers; postmodernity is full of questions. Modernity reveled in reason, science and human ability; postmodernity wallows (with apparent contentment or nihilistic angst) in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know anything with certainty.”

This mood change was fueled by the devastation and disappointments of two world wars. Philosophies of despair and nihilistic existentialism became popular fare throughout Europe. These philosophies would later provide the ideological framework for the rejection of authority and institutionalism in America.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the prevailing attitudes against authority, institution and establishment produced overwhelmingly negative effects on our nation. During this same period, we experienced a massive societal shift away from the institution of marriage and family with exponential increases in divorce rates and widespread acceptance of non-marital co-habitation.

As a result of these changes, pastors, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists are stretched to the limit as they try to help overwhelming numbers of people pick up the broken pieces of their lives and become whole again. Yet many of these helpers are equally lost because they accept the postmodern lie.

What is the lie? It is the wholesale rejection of universal reason and absolute truth. It is the delusional mindset that there is no objective goodness and rightness. These prevailing opinions have led to the dismissal of an absolute deity. Don’t misunderstand; God is warmly welcomed in the postmodern world as long as he doesn’t try to play God.

“Postmodernity returns value to faith and affirms the nurturing of our spiritual being as vital to humankind. Unfortunately, with the loss of truth, people will now seek faith without boundaries, categories, or definition. The old parameters of belief do not exist. As a result, people will be increasingly open to knowing God, but on their own terms.” (Graham Johnston).

Yet the true and living God will not be defined by finite creatures. While postmodern guru-philosophers like Richard Rorty have tried to write the obituary of the “God’s eye view of the world,” the Creator of the universe still determines the standard of truth, goodness and beauty.

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Culture, D. A. Carson, Emerging Leaders, Philosophy, Postmodern, Worldview and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to They still want to know what it means

  1. This is not an easy debate. If we do live in a post-modern era, it’s because the term post-modern is not really definable. Indeed, most of the people who are deemed post-modernists would never consider themselves so.

    For me, post-modernism is about silliness. It’s about creating or demonstrating silliness in things people usually take very seriously or assume to be serious. Sometimes this silliness can be funny, other times it can be enlightening, and other times it can be frustrating or upsetting. But there is no real point to it, other than to bring out this silliness.

    It’s very natural that, as a Christian, you are opposed to postmodernism. Christianity (all religions actually) stakes its claim on the fact that the true God is a serious one. All the lessons taught to and by Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, John, etc. are all serious lessons. Indeed, nothing can be more serious than your salvation, which requires a sincere, earnest, truthful faith in Christ. Your salvation, which is the thing that should be valued by the individual above everything else — even above his own life or the life of his loved ones (as Christ says in Luke: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple”) — surely your salvation must be taken seriously.

    But I wonder if the right combat against post-modernism is not more seriousness (“Yet the true and living God will not be defined by finite creatures…”), but rather more playfulness. After all, as Christ tells us in Mark: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” Play is how we learn, and play means testing limits, asking questions, wondering, pondering, imagining, creating, and most importantly, understanding.

    It’s easy enough to say there is an absolute truth, and that absolute truth is God. It’s much harder to understand how every second of every day, every experience, every event, every person, every action relates to that truth, and in countless ways. God enjoys wearing new faces for us.

    Mark Blasini

  2. ladysheepdog says:

    I think every era since Adam was created has been full of absurdities and inconsistencies. Every generation has had a certain percentage of people who have done many things to negate the perfect loving relationship that is suppose to be between Creator and His creation. And that includes inside and outside The Church.

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  5. altruistico says:

    I have done a work on post-modernism entitle the “What are the Dangers of Post-Modernism” [http://wp.me/p26QNa-2bv]. There are three of which stand out.
    1): Relative truth;
    2): Loss of Discernment, and;
    3): Pluralism:

    Christianity claims to be absolutely true, that meaningful distinctions in matters of right/wrong (as well as spiritual truth and falsehood) exist, and that to be correct in its claims about God any contrary claims from competing religions must be incorrect. Such a stance provokes cries of “arrogance” and “intolerance” from postmodernism. However, truth is not a matter of attitude or preference, and when closely examined, the foundations of postmodernism quickly crumble, revealing Christianity’s claims to be both plausible and compelling.

    Even more recently I have posted on “What is Truth?” In it there is broad discussion on many aspects of post modernism, relativism and plurality….. and more.

    May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you and keep you.

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